Unforgettable photos like these above were taken by my travel buddy on the trip Pier Nirandara.
On the shores of Magdalena Bay in the Pacific Ocean — far from the reaches of COVID-19 — there lies an isolated and remote fishing village called Puerto San Carlos.
After arriving into and spending a night in Cabo San Lucas, we boarded a 5 hour pre-arranged ride at 10am first to the city of La Paz in the north (and where John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” takes place!) where we rendezvous’ed with the rest of our group.
Then we took another 4 hour drive from La Paz into Puerto San Carlos, far far away from any COVID-19 hotspot. The way I like it.
And to the relief of my older age happening upon me, Puerto San Carlos is a quiet town with not a lot happening after dark.
On an outdoor rooftop patio above a Lore Sports Bar & Guesthouse, we began with an orientation by our diving company, Nomad Diving:
And after a long day of driving, we turned in early at 10pm.
Day 1 – November 2, 2020
The first morning had us up at 6am, armed with only a cup of coffee and a light breakfast before setting out for a quick drive to the docks 5 minutes way.
Once we arrived, we divvied up the boat teams and made sure we had all our gear.
For a freediving trip for beginners, you only need a wetsuit (to keep you floating on the surface), snorkel, and flippers:
By 7am we set out into Magdalena Bay.
It takes approximately 40 minutes of sailing out from Puerto San Carlos into Mag Bay to reach the open waters teeming with marine life. But once you’re there, it’s a simple matter of jumping in to immediately see the thousands of Mobula Rays migrating together underneath:
Despite the “ray” moniker, they don’t really pose much of a threat. If you get close in front of them, they disperse pretty quickly
Once every now and then we come along a lone sea turtle. We lucked out with this one as it didn’t seem to care about humans swimming around it (they usually freak out and dive deep if they don’t want to play).
But the real reason why we came out was to hunt for circling birds that in turn were hunting for “bait balls” of swimming mackerel or sardines.
Once you find one, you know their predators (sea lions, marlins, whales) are also close by.
Obviously, we came for the lesser witnessed congregation of striped marlins:
After 10 hours on the water (we packed small lunchboxes to hold us over), we sailed back onto the coast by 5pm. The toughest part wasn’t the swimming, but learning how to pee in the water with your wetsuit on, or pee off a small moving boat with everyone trying to look away.
Trust me after 3 days of trying, it’s way harder than it sounds for the uninitiated.
But nothing like an $18 garlic butter lobster dinner to help you forget all your troubles.
Day 2 – November 3, 2020 – Election Day
Hopeful for another auspicious day with sea life, we headed back out at 6:50am for a 7am departure from the docks.
Once again by 8:30am we were able to catch and swim with two migrating groups of mobula rays.
At 10am we sailed to a seal colony and beach where we were able to swim with the dozens of playful creatures there.
But the prize of the day would always be a static bait ball where we could catch both sea lions and the striped marlin:
And with another 10 hours at sea under our belts, we sailed back for a quick detour to check out the epic sand dunes in the area:
This was also where I could totally feel free peeing my kidneys out on a sand dune, as I was back in familiar travel territory.
I even celebrated this accomplishment with everyone:
And guess what I came across while boarding back into our boat! Must be aliens:
Alas, the calm before the storm:
And yet this calm wouldn’t last long; an election night for the ages that had seemed opportune turned into an interminable stasis pattern of bleak uncertainty. With poor internet signal in the middle of nowhere, we were left to imaginations and doubt as the drinks kept piling out. If there was a night to drink, this would be it.
Day 3 – November 4, 2020 – Post Election Hangover
I tried to put on a cheerful as possible mood this morning.
Luckily for us who stayed up late stress eating, stress drinking, and stress sleeping our way through a night of uncertainty, the waters responded in kind with a relatively light day and a playful sea lion for us to dance with.
The rest of it was hunting for more marine life, and oddly, nothing much else showed up. Today we learned that nature can be fickle.
Day 4 – November 5, 2020
On our 4th day, my body had me sleeping in accidentally and missing the 6am wake up call. (Staying up at 3am the night before to chat and philosophize under the stars didn’t help with that either). Therefore taking an opportunity to fully recharge and reset, I found myself enjoying my “day off from days off” more than I had expected. I forgot how much me-time I needed this year.
I would find out later, when the group returned at 6pm, that I also didn’t miss much. Like on day 3 nature remained fickle and only yielded a few dolphins (which I swam with back in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Musandam Oman) in the water. Whew!
Day 5 – November 6, 2020
Our last morning dive woke us up to an atmospheric fog:
And yet today was another wash, with our only catch of the day being a school of mahi mahi:
We tried sailing all the way south to catch the schools of marine life that may have migrated there instead and still: no dice.
Otherwise it was 10 hours of napping in a boat while waiting for something to come up, before we finally decided to return early and celebrate one final night together.
Although I found myself turning in earlier than I would have expected at 1am, you just can’t beat the tasting menu of oysters we had for our last meal in Puerto San Carlos.
Or the company.
Day 6 – November 7, 2020
On our last morning, we left at 6am for a 3 hour ride towards La Paz, where we switched drivers (and found out when they called the US Presidential Elections!!!) and drove another 2 hours to SJD airport in Cabo San José.
Once at the airport they gave us a health declaration form to fill out and show (but they never would collect it):
So much for physical distancing here when waiting for security:
Once past security we tried to access the Priority Pass VIP lounges here, but due to pandemic seating limits we had to take a number and wait for our turn. We were eventually seated at assigned spots inside the lounge within 15 minutes, where food and drinks were delivered to us for the sake of crowd control.
During my 4 hour flight to Atlanta I was then reminded all the small things I missed from traveling when I befriended my aisle mate 2 seats over (who happens to be an aspiring travel blogger!) after she asked about my camera.
After landing on time to a relatively smooth return to the USA, nobody asked me anything about my health or risk of exposure upon arrival. I simply walked straight through a contactless Global Entry (which now only takes a picture to recognize you), the usual customs, and then into ground transportation without having to answer about quarantining or testing negative for COVID.
Needless to say as a responsible fellow for the sake of my health and community, I arranged the next morning for a rapid COVID-19 test at a drive-thru testing facility.
Within the hour I got my results: negative for COVID-19!
And even with this I still plan to impose a mini self-quarantine while here for a few days, before returning back home to NYC on Thursday and testing again for COVID-19 the morning after.
–EDIT: IN NYC–
…which I did. Negative for COVID-19 x 6 times, negative for COVID-19 antibodies x 4 times. In other words, to this day have yet to be infected with COVID-19.
- At time of posting in Puerto San Carlos, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny
- Weigh the opportunity cost of travel (as a frontline healthcare worker I may burn out/can’t take care of anyone safely if I don’t recharge appropriately…and I have taken practice steps with small domestic trips before leaping on a trip abroad)
- Leave from a low prevalence area (or self-quarantine in a low prevalence area for at least 10 days without symptoms before leaving)
- Travel to a low prevalence area
- Ensure you have the correct entry requirements of the destination
- Choose a responsible airline
- Face coverings when inside and not eating
- Always eat/socialize outdoors if you can help it
- Stick to outdoor activities
- If in a group, make sure everyone either tested negative for COVID-19 right before the trip (or self-quarantined in the destination for at least 10 days without symptoms before meeting them)
- Be prepared to cancel the trip (or mandatory self-isolation) for anyone who develops symptoms
With the country still reopening after what seemed an eternity combating the pandemic of COVID-19, the consistently low infection rates in NYC, and our successful 3 week trip across the USA (twice!) overland without causing any infections, casualties, or hot spots, we now have taken the next responsible step in returning to a life of travel while minimizing our exposure and negative impact on public health.
During the virtual world premiere of Raubern’s film, our public audience had encouraged us to travel sooner than later with a domestic road trip this August. What seemed like an errant statement of hope soon materialized within our community: we determined if we keep a trip in small, contained cohorts of COVID-negative travelers, we could both travel on an epic adventure without negatively impacting the world around us. And given our previous experience leading a southernwestern national road trip on the famed Route 66 from NYC to California 5 summers ago, it had seemed perfectly appropriate to take the northwestern route this summer from NYC. We always follow the signs.
And then that trip happened. With the success of being one of the first (if not the first) adventure travel groups to pull off an official and COVID-free trip in the era of COVID-19, we now take the next step by leaving domestic borders for one of the safest areas in Mexico: Off the coast of the Southern Baja California Sur Peninsula far remote from any COVID-19 hotspots in the middle of pure outdoor nature and sea, we will join forces with Nomad Diving to witness a rare event: when thousands of Striped Marlins congregate in search of their next meal.
And just for your reference the last plane I ever boarded was almost 8 months ago on March 7th, when I was returning from a 2 week trip in Angola. How little did I truly appreciate at the time what was waiting for me around the corner when I saw my first COVID-19 patient the next morning on March 8th in Brooklyn.
…as you can imagine it has been another kind of journey where I felt like I’ve lived multiple lifetimes since. And yet nearly paralyzed by COVID-19, I nevertheless must stress the small steps I have taken in returning to and recharging with travel: at first with small private road trips, camping, and finally a proper domestic monsoon across the country. With each consistent success and no infections since, I still would wait another 2 months holding out as long as I could before I would feel comfortable stepping on my first flight abroad.
8 months later, on the first day of November, that would be that day.
After confirming a negative COVID-19 test the night before at my own workplace (even though Mexico currently does not require such for travel, it’s still good to be sure), I set out at 4:00am in the morning for a scheduled 06:00am flight out from NYC to ATL with my new monsooner in tow, Nancy Nunez, a travel ER nurse who would sign up for this trip via my Instagram and meet me for the first time today.
Other than the chair stickers and the masks, it feels like nothing’s changed:
And the great thing about Delta, Southwest, Alaskan Air, and JetBlue is that they have all been extremely strict about enforcing face coverings onboard and physically distancing passengers by keeping their middle rows empty. It’s made a huge difference in preventing infections (as well as leaving a lot more overhead luggage storage for us!).
As all modern aircraft cycles and filters the air at a rate more often per hour than trains or subways, the better rate-limiting and game-changing variable that you can control for during a pandemic would be more the airline than the airplane itself. My vote — during a pandemic of all times — would be the strictest. Because why take an unnecessary risk if you don’t have to?
They also handed out sealed plastic baggies for the onboard snacks:
After a 2 hour flight, we landed in Atlanta, after which I rushed over to the international terminals to catch my connecting flight out to SJD airport.
And within the 15 minutes we had until boarding, I took the time to check out both The Club at ATL (with my Priority Pass which remarkably still works!):
…and the Delta Sky Club (by means of my Amex Platinum membership):
How much did I miss the free food at lounges?
Then it was another 4 hours before we arrived in SJD airport and my first foreign country in over 8 months (which is a big deal considering our frequency of international travel for the past 5-6 years).
Once we hopped on a 2 minute bus ride to the terminal, they checked our forms, took our temperature, and had us sanitize our shoes and luggage:
Make sure you have all your forms filled out beforehand, including the health declaration form you can do online a few days prior:
On the home stretch past customs, be wary of the nearly endless line of touts waiting to sell you either a taxi ride, a timeshare, or both. Some things haven’t changed.
If you don’t need either and want to play it smart just look the other and ruuuuunnn….
While outside, Nancy and I got some drinks and waited for my friend and guide Pier Nirandara (who I just saw 2 months ago when I stopped in LA!) and her 2 friends Helena and Liya to arrive before we hopped on a shared van to The Marriott Fairfield Inn.
We all freshened up quickly for 20 minutes before setting off with our responsible face coverings for a boozy brunch by the Ocean at Sur:
If there’s a particular “sight” you want to venture out from here, that would be The Arch of Cabo San Lucas:
Otherwise, kick back and just enjoy the ocean breeze:
And if you’re here on Halloween, aka Día de los Muertos, try to enjoy the local festivities! We wandered a bit after a sunset massage ($36 for one hour!) at one of the beach bars.
We then returned to our hotel for a bit of a recharge…
…and then had dinner at The Office:
but by 11pm saw that next door Mango Deck, normally renowned for its party scene…
…and the rest of downtown Cabos would be shuttered early (even on a Saturday night holiday) from COVID precautions:
These are new times. The group therefore instead spent the rest of the night staying up and getting to know one another over crazy travel stories in Pier’s hotel room before retiring at 2am.
–EDIT: November 5, 2020–
This post was written both for me and for you, tracking down all that I did to make sure I would travel safely. And for what it’s worth, it’s now been more than 6 days (COVID-19 symptoms on average take 2-5 days to manifest for 98% of patients) since and none of us, who also tested negative for COVID prior to the trip (which wasn’t even required by our airlines or this destination), have any symptoms.
So as a group — as monsooners — we continue to do things right and explore living as fulfilled lives we can have during uncertain times, both responsibly and ethically.
- At time of posting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, it was 29 °C -
Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly sunny
I never seen water as blue as Cancun’s.
Edmund (left) and Sam (bottom), fellow monsooners meeting for the first time today in Cancún before we begin our trip tomorrow
Hanging out at Oasis Sens, and just relaxing before I begin another adventure tomorrow. Here goes nothing.
Internet is reported to be unreliable where I’m going, so this might be the last update in awhile.
- At time of posting in Cancun, Mexico, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 18km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
As of 12:00pm EST, Monday January 17th, the community free clinic we were building in Tijuana, Mexico has opened:
Inside the clinic - the community waiting room
Pharmacy room with medications donated by Mickey Heller and his family...All medication are free for patients.
It's a big waiting room!
Thanks for all your support!
- At time of posting in NYC, it was -4 °C -
Humidity: 37% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
3 months of fundraising and 4 days of construction later…
I don’t believe any of us fully grasped the impact of what we were doing until we had left. And even now, in the nascent days of our Tijuana-withdrawal, I myself still haven’t fully comprehended the obvious: We were in Mexico for only 4 days, transcending a community service cliché by establishing something more than just a building.
We all returned feeling like we lived up, somehow, to the overarching mission of helping serve a community of 1,500 in need, but we also came back having taken with us something we never really read in the pamphlets or heard about in information sessions. Beneath the very obvious of building a clinic, we also unconsciously had nurtured a remarkable environment of affiliation and acceptance amongst one another. Novices and experts, young and elder, artists and builders, brains and brawn; strangers from all over the country boasting vastly diverse and seemingly incompatible interests, skills, expectations, and levels of determination somehow were able to quickly reconcile incongruities and establish something organic in doing one thing and that one thing well: Build.
There was no pre-screening and there was no application process. The only red tape was used as name tags. All 40 of us were instead accepted onto the team based solely on our willingness to build. Armed with the curiosity of what a bunch of strangers can do when they share the same goal, we came back learning that sometimes, wonderful things can happen.
- At time of posting in New York City, it was -1 °C -
Humidity: 39% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
It’s a final goodbye to Mexico!
Crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S.; yes they check for your passports to let you through. Very straightforward, but the traffic took 2 hours!
We crossed the border last night to meet up with one of our med school classmates as she graciously drove us around San Diego to get dinner at the famous In-N-Out joint. We were so tired though, and since we had a early morning flight to catch, the reunion was unfortunately short-lived.
Back in San Diego: My first In-n-Out experience!
taken about a few minutes ago. Jasmine on the left, Cula on the right
On our way back home!
- At time of posting in 10,000 ft. above sea level, it was -3 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 54km/hr | Cloud Cover: lots of clouds